[From Churches of South Ramsey,1923]
THE name "Ramsey" has been said to mean "Ravens Isle" or "Ravens water." Professor Munch, however, was the first to suggest that "Ramsey" was "Hrafns ey" (isle) , and was no doubt so called from Hrafn its first owner. The same name occurs as that of a Treen in Bride, which was probably also his property. The description "isle" has reference to the Mooragh, which about 1000 A.D. must have been twice the size it is now, and was cut off from the mainland by the river together with its backwater.
The river-mouth was until about the year 1800 north of the Mooragh and defended by a Fort on a projecting Broogh just above the site where the two cement-block houses stand at the end of the present Promenade. The Lake is simply the bed of the Old River. On the other side, where was the outlet of the backwater, a little south of the Old Cross, was a Ford, dry at low water, formed of gravel thrown up by the tide.
The Mooragh itself was formed by the swift flowing river and its backwater and the constant action of the tide.
Ramsey is mentioned in the earliest records of the Island. In 1077 Godred Crovan, who, after the defeat of his party at Stamford Bridge by the King of England, had sought refuge in Man, where he had been kindly and hospitably entertained, after two repulses, succeeded in a third attempt in making himself master of the Island. This he did by means of the stratagem of concealing three hundred men in the woods of Scacafel (Sky Hill) , who took the Manx in the rear and drove them into the river. One chronicler says that in this engagement, Fingall, King of the country, fell, and with him, Sygtrig MacOlave, King of the Danes in Dublin.
Remains of a Danish encampment are said to have been traced at the mouth of Ballure Glen, but this probably has reference to the ancient Fort that stood on what is now Ballure Mount. No doubt this Fort would be restored and made use of by the Earl of Derby when he made the others mentioned below.
In 1154 Olave, King of Man, was assassinated by his nephew Reginald "near the harbour of Ramsey," and two years later, during the night of the Epiphany, a sea battle was fought in Ramsey Bay between Godred Olaveson and Somerled, the Thane of Argyle, which led to the division between the two of the sovereignty of the Southern Isles and Man. Somerled made a second attack on the Island in 1158 at the same place, defeating Godred, who was obliged to fly from the Island to the Court of Norway.
In 1205 a hundred vessels rendezvoused in Ramsey Bay, whence they steered for the coast of Ireland, under Reginald, King of Man, when he wished to assist his brother-in-law, De Courcy, against Hugh de Lacy, Earl of Ulster.
In 1313 Robert Bruce, King of Scotland, put in at Ramsey on May 18th with a numerous fleet. He visited the Monastery at Douglas, and subsequently laid siege to and took Castle Rushen.
James, the seveiith Earl of Derby, erected sundry fortifications in the neighbourhood and mounted guns at Ramsey. One fort, built about 1648, was called "Fort Loyal," but there is much doubt as to its precise situation, and about the same time a fort, which is probably the fine earth work at Ballachurry, in Andreas, was made "in the middest of the Island."
In 1645 a band of Scottish pirates landed at Ramsey and plundered the country, and six years later, after the execution of the Earl of Derby at Bolton, the Parliamentary forces under Colonel Duckenfield appearing in Ramsey Bay, the Manx surrendered to them, stipulating that they should "enjoy their lands and liberties as they had aforetime ."
In 1630 the sea carried away a very large portion of the Town, and in 1704, there being again great danger from the same cause, the people of Ramsey asked that the inhabitants of Ayre sheading and Maughold parish should be ordered to assist them "to mend the breaches," and that an assessment for the same purpose should be made on the townspeople. This insecurity evidently continued, for, as late as 1721, the Lord of Man granted a "benevolence" of £10 towards protecting the Town from the sea.
Much of the internal trade of the Island was done at fairs. In 1647 the people of Ramsey complained to the Legislature that Maughold fair interfered with their trade, and it was ordered that "the ffayre upon S. Bartholomews Day (Aug. 24th) be transferred to Ramsey, while that on S. Simon and S. Judes Day be held in Maughold ."
We are told that in the time of Governor Sacheverell "a fat goose cost 6d, a hen or duck 3d, eggs were 13 for 1d, rabbits 2d each, crabs 1d a dozen," and a chronicler says in 1811 that he was informed that "half a century ago a gentleman might keep his carriage and live sumptuously for £100 per annum."
In March, 1760, Commodore Elliot, having come up with the French Commander Thurot off the Isle of Man, defeated him. The enemys three ships, "including the Marèchal Belleisle, 44 guns and 545 men, including troops, and Monsieur Thurot, Commander, who was killed," were taken.
This François Thurot, a native of Dunkirk, was a very successful smuggler who gained such a reputation for boldness and good seamanship that, when war was declared between England and France in 1756, he was given command of the above-named frigate and soon afterwards of a small squadron.
Feltham in his "Tour" (1798) , speaks of Ramsey as a small neat town containing about 300 houses. A writer thirteen years later says "Ramsey acquires some importance from being the seat of the administration of justice for the Northern District. A new Court of Law was built some ten years ago, but is not kept in good repair. It abounds with broken panes of glass stopped up with pieces of old tea-chests." This state of affairs was happily rectified and Ramsey can a few years afterwards be spoken of as " a small neat town" but irregular with narrow streets and houses neat and clean from the presence of white-Wash . It was incorporated with seven Commissioners in 1861.
The Court House referred to above is the present one. The site was obtained from William Christian, called Christian Noe. His son was called Christian Noe-Beg. There is some land in Lezayre known as CronkYn Oe (the hill of the grandfather) . William Christian was a Lezayre man and had property in Maughold as well as in Lezayre. The Court House was built on his land and he had the right of sitting in Court with his hat on. He was excommunicated in 1825 by Bishop Murray, and died of starvation. The building was improved in 1837. In its grounds now stands Ramseys beautiful Memorial to her sons who fell in the Great War, a massive Celtic Cross from the design of Mr P. M. C. Kermode, the well-known antiquary and author of the standard work on "Manx Crosses," who presented the Town with the Reference Library in 1921.
The old Court House, which at the back of Lough House, used to be reached from College Street (i. e . Collag Street, "the street of the bait tins.")
To approach Ramsey from the north it was necesary to cross the river which, before its channel was altered and the stone bridge built, turned in the direction of the present Central Hotel. In bygone days there were several fords, one near the present Town Offices and one at Greenland, and another to which recourse was had when the tide was high near Loughan-Y-eiY.
The Rev William Kermode, in speaking of the days of his boyhood, used to recall the games he had with other boys of his age jumping over the walls of S. Pauls, which were then being built, and he recollected the making of an embankment which is now Church Street. The old jetty also, which stood near the Old Cross, and was regularly used by vessels loading and discharging cargo before the harbour was made, was still made use of when he was a boy. The Market Place at that time was not as it is now, and the water from theharbour found its way up as far as Joes Lough. there the Vicar-General, Thomas Arthur Corlett, built his house, "Lough House," still standing between the Old Cross and Waterloo Road. The Market Place was filled in about 1835, and in a manuscript book of Mr Kermodes there is a list of subscriptions and expenses for "filling up that part of the harbour called the Lake in the town of Ramsey." Strand Street and the parts adjacent to it are a portion of the original town which stood on the bar of sand extending from the Old River-mouth to what is known as the Old Cross. This was once the Market Place, where in former days, as was so generally the case, a Cross stood. To reach the old part of the town at high-tide it was necessary to go as far as the Old Cross. A footpath led from what is now Market Hill to Dale Street, and at low water the latter was reached by means of a "deal" plank placed across the char ~ Hence the name of "Dale Street."
The harbour was improved about 1840, and still further improved in 1862 by the continuation and completion of the North Pier. Previous to the construction of the South promenade, a building stood near the site of what was afterwards the Neptune Inn, and is now the Prince of Wales Hotel. In it those of the men belonging to the Light-ship who were not taking their turn of duty on boarl, used to be regularly employed. A Light-ship was stationed on the Bahama Bank, seven miles out from Ramsey, until the erection of the Light-house on Maughold Head nine years ago, when it was replaced by an automatic light-buoy.
Where Stanley Mount is now there was formerly a sand hill called "Starkeys Cronk," while the lower portion of Queens Drive on the way to Ballure was known as "The Bog," and through it in bygone days passed the stream that flowed close by Ballure Chapel.
The population of the whole Island in 1726 was 13,971. That of Ramsey was 460. It increased to 1754 by 1831 . The census of 1921 shews a total population of the Island of 49,078, and of Ramsey of 4,121.
In one of the fields of Claughbane immediately to the left of the Mountain Road as it ascends towards Hair-Pin Corner, is an old burial mound. This was opened some years ago and found to contain several urns.
There is in a field on Ballastole, below Hillside, a well called "Chybbyr-y-Voirrey" (the well of Mary.) It was considered to possess peculiar healing properties and sick folk used to make a point of sending for the water. The writer can remember an old Ramsey resident who insisted on having the water for her use brought from Chybbyr-y-Voirrey because of its wonderful qualities. From this well the water made its way to another on the site of what is now the mill belonging to Messrs. Corlett and Cowley. The name "Chybbyr-y-Voirrey covered both the wells and the stream.
The names of "Water Street" and "Pump Road" (Tower Road) speak of the time when the inhabitants made their way to the latter well for their supplies of water. Ramsey also possessed a brewery and a snuff-factory. The name of "Bark Lane" reminds us that the Town once numbered a tannery amongst its industries, while sixty years ago the "Ship-yard" was a Ship-yard in more than name only. Over 250 men were employed and there were conveniences for building wood or iron ships to 2,000 tons burthen.
The leading hostelries at that time were the "Albert," standing between the end of Dale Street and the Promenade, and now entirely demolished, and the "Mitre."
In past days when the Bishop wanted to reach Douglas from Bishopscourt he must needs go either by the way of Peel or Ramsey. He generally preferred the Ramsey direction, and used to rest at the Inn. From this circumstance came the name "Mitre."
Many people remember the time when, in order to land from the packet, small boats had to be employed, and passengers were carried ashore at a small wooden landing-place just to the north of the present Queens Pier (opened 1886) , on the backs of sturdy fishermen~ occasionally getting somewhat wet in the process.